Disclosure: The author also works as Senior EN News Editor for Crunchyroll News, and a digital screener was provided for the film.
Despite the fact that Kirito, Asuna and the rest of the Sword Art Online cast have really been put through the wringer over the years, the first arc remains the most quintessentially SAO. With that in mind, it makes sense that author Reki Kawahara revisited the Aincrad arc in the Sword Art Online Progressive spinoff light novels, which take us through familiar territory from a different perspective. Rather than keeping our sights set firmly on Kirito for the entire run, Progressive takes a look at the events from the eyes of Asuna, resulting in a theatrical two-parter that’s both fresh and familiar.
The first part, Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Aria of a Starless Night,already had screenings outside of Japan and is now available to stream on Crunchyroll, so it’s time to turn our attention toward the sequel, Sword Art Online -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night, ahead of its U.S. theatrical run on February 3.
When we last left our death game heroes, they had just cleared the first floor of a whopping 100, defeating the boss with the help of some insight that Kirito and other beta testers had into its various attack patterns. As we learned then, not everything is the same as it was in the Sword Art Online beta, so even the most experienced of players are constantly dealing with curveballs as they attempt to avoid dying in the game—and thus also in real life—and ultimately complete it. Doing so is going to take some time, and two months later we find everyone on the cusp of conquering the fifth floor.
It turns out that doing so will unlock an insanely rare reward; one that would benefit whichever of the two main guilds happens to get their hands on it. Like any good story, this portion reveals that there’s more than meets the eye to the threats within this game, and that clearing floors will soon be the least of everyone’s concerns. In addition to an impending war between the guilds—ALS (Aincrad Liberation Squad) and DKB (Dragon Knights Brigade)—there’s the looming threat of nefarious Player Killers. These players don’t care about clearing the game and escaping, they just want to kill as many players as they can and by any means necessary. Thanks to the nature of the situation within Sword Art Online, that makes them cold-blooded murderers in both the virtual and real worlds.
Scherzo of Deep Night spends a small chunk of its running time setting up these conflicts, but there’s only so much you can squeeze into 100 minutes, so the focus lands on Asuna and Kirito’s attempt to squash a potential guild war before it ever gets off the ground. To do so, they’ll have to get their modest but powerful group together to take down the fifth floor guardian before one of the guilds can do so surreptitiously. Without giving anything away, this all culminates in an exciting battle that highlights where production house A-1 Pictures really shines in these big screen spins on the story.
Outside of combat, the Progressive films don’t stray too far from the aesthetic of the Sword Art Online TV anime. This is more of a nod toward the high standards A-1 Pictures has established over the years than a slight on the quality of the production. The movies look sharp and the sparks really fly once battles are underway. They also do an admirable job of animating a poolside, swimsuit-clad duel between Asuna and a banana-wielding Argo; a very, very light bit of fanservice in an otherwise squeaky clean action-adventure film.
It’s been a while since I watched the first Sword Art Online series, but I’ve been enjoying seeing it all play out from Asuna’s point of view. I have no major issues with Kirito, but he is very much the God Gamer archetype who is, performance-wise, damn near infallible. While you’re never really concerned with Asuna’s well-being throughout both movies, she brings a more survivalist perspective to the proceedings. Rather than fulfilling the wish of “What if I were better than literally everyone else at this video game?,” she embodies the more grounded goal of “What if I got good enough at this video game to avoid dying a horrible death?” She also learns a hard lesson about trust that pays off in a satisfying way in Scherzo of Deep Night, and her growth is palpable even over the course of just a couple of movies. It sure beats having to watch her sit in a bird cage for half a season.
Sword Art Online -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night is fast-paced and a little more interesting than its predecessor, and both combine to make a fun two-parter that every Sword Art Online fan should check out. Even if you’re not into the series yet, there’s nothing here holding it back as an entry point. As long as you watch the first Progressive movie, you’ll be good to go when this one opens.
Sword Art Online -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night opens in U.S. cinemas on February 3.